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‘I am as good as the buffaloes’ — India’s ‘Usain Bolt’ says he runs only for Kambala

Kambala sensation Srinivasa Gowda became an overnight star on social media after being compared to Usain Bolt. But the comparison didn’t sit well for him.

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Bengaluru: Srinivasa Gowda, a 28-year-old Kambala jockey who has become an overnight star on social media, isn’t too comfortable with comparisons to Olympic champion Usain Bolt. For Gowda, the buffaloes matter just as much as him.

“I am as good as the buffaloes that run with me,” said the embarrassed and soft-spoken construction worker from Karnataka’s coastal belt of his win in the traditional buffalo race.

Gowda’s response was in stark contrast to the social media frenzy Saturday after a video of his Kambala race in Mangaluru last week went viral. The jockey ran 142.5 metres on a Kambala track in 13.62 seconds — which can be equated to completing 100m in 9.55 seconds, faster than the 100m world record held by Bolt.

Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju immediately offered Gowda a trial at the Sports Authority of India (SAI)’s centre in Bengaluru. Other prominent leaders also joined in to celebrate the achievement.

Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa felicitated him with a cash prize of Rs 3 lakh — the bill was footed by the labour department owing to Gowda’s full-time profession.

Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa felicitating Srinivasa Gowda from Mangaluru on Monday. | Photo: ANI
Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa felicitating Srinivasa Gowda from Mangaluru on Monday. | Photo: ANI

In all this jubilation, almost everyone disregarded the fact that a buffalo jockey race is different from an Olympic sprint.

However, Gowda kept his cool and turned down the trial offer.

“I’ve never been trained on the track. I run only for Kambala. I am used to running in the muddy paddy field with my heels largely because I need to control the buffaloes. But Usain Bolt uses spiked shoes and his toes to move forward,” he told ThePrint.

He also hasn’t made up his mind about training at the sports centre, saying he’ll take a call only after getting a nod from his mentor.

“I need a lot of practice and athletic training to run on a hard ground track. I have always run on muddy paddy fields. It’s a different sport altogether.”

Also read: Why it pays to even lose at the Australian Open

‘Don’t compare him to Bolt’

The Karnataka races derive their name from the word Kambala, which in the coastal belt’s regional language Tulu means a muddy/slushy paddy field.

The traditional form of the rural sport involves two yolked buffaloes that are made to run on the field along with a jockey who has to keep up with their speed and rein them into the right track. The event is organised between November and March annually.

Srinivasa Gowda is a student of the first batch of Mangaluru’s Kambala Academy, which teaches jockeys “how not to hurt the animal”, according to the institute’s founder-secretary professor Gunapala Kadamba.

Kadamba, who mentors Gowda, had accompanied the jockey to Bengaluru to receive the CM’s cash award. However, even he doesn’t appreciate the jockey’s comparisons with Bolt.

“Comparing Gowda with Usain Bolt is unacceptable. I have a difference of opinion on that. The world record of Bolt is completely different from Kambala. You have to compare the track in which one runs and the time taken to run. Judging both sports is completely different,” said Kadamba.

The training question

Srinivasa Gowda has made it clear for the moment that he won’t be able to immediately participate in the trials at the SAI centre.

According to Kadamba, this is due to Gowda’s prior commitments — not in letter, but words — for the next few weeks.

“He will be able to think of going to the trials only after he has completed his commitments. There is no way he can break those commitments,” said Kadamba. These engagements are normally between the jockey and the owners of the buffaloes.

In the last month, Gowda has participated in 12 Kambala events and has won in 35 races. The prize money goes to the owner of the buffaloes and the jockeys get a couple of gold sovereigns. But given Gowda’s growing reputation in this Kambala season, sources indicated that he could have earned anywhere between Rs 4-5 lakh.

Kadamba said, “Our intention is that when he enters the track event or even go to the Olympics, he should win a gold medal there too.”

Ajay Kumar Bahl, senior director at the SAI southern centre, told ThePrint, “SAI is ready to welcome him and train him. We will support him all the way in terms of his training, nutrition, biomechanics and ensure he gets all the support to win a medal.

“He is very talented, but we also need to test him separately as he has been running barefoot all these years. We will need to train him to run with shoes, later with spiked shoes. We have the facilities, he has the talent, let’s see if he agrees. Then we will support him all through,” said Bahl.

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